The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has won the 2014 Imperial Barrel Award.
If it sounds like you already have read this story once before, perhaps you have.
Back in 2012, the school also won.
That's not supposed to happen. Check that. It doesn’t happen. No school has ever won twice, which brings us to a school in southwest Louisiana with a little under 18,000 students, a school that would appreciate it if you got its name right: The University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
The team adviser then, the team advisor now, is AAPG Brian Lock, an award-winning professor of geology and the department's graduate school coordinator, and he was confident of this year's victory all the way – except for the moments he wasn't.
“I had seen several other presentations, possible because our team went early, and I had been particularly impressed by the Colorado School of Mines presentation – really professional! – and had hoped for a second or third place for UL Lafayette,” Lock said of the global competition.
“So when CSM was announced as third place winner, I would have taken bets that we were out of the money,” he continued. “Then Oklahoma was announced second, and I was even more convinced we were going home empty handed.”
And then …
“The announcement of first place seemed to be in slow motion and it really took a moment to sink in,” he said. “University of Louisiana at Lafayette! What a euphoric feeling!”
It Takes a Team
As mentioned, UL Lafayette is the only two-time recipient of the IBA, an award started and sponsored by AAPG since 2007. The school has competed in the global tournament every year since the program was expanded in 2008. This year the school was one of 122 schools from across the United States and six international regions that entered the contest.
“Being the first team to win the competition twice is really special, but I am sure there were many people not familiar with the program who have been continually surprised by our performance at the Section level,” said Lock, who has won an A.I. Levorsen Award for his work, plus AAPG’s Distinguished Service Award and the Grover E. Murray Memorial Distinguished Educator Award.
One of the reasons for the surprise is the school’s size. UL Lafayette has approximately 150 geology students. By contrast, the University of Texas has about 600, a fact not lost on Lock's students.
“Our continued success in the IBA competition not only does a great job of getting global exposure for our university, but it proves that we can compete with the larger, better funded programs and win,” said AAPG member Jordy Babineaux, a member of the team.
“Our students,” Lock added, “had really worked hard – eight- or nine-hour days, seven days a week throughout the eight weeks – and I was really pleased with the quality of their work and the strong sense of a team.”
You can almost hear Babineaux mutter, “Tell me about it!”
“The Dutch North Sea data set that our team was given included 13 previously drilled wells, 12 of which were dry holes,” he said. “That was when we first realized this project was not going to be a cakewalk.
“Through the eight-week competition, we had to collectively piece together the basin history, interpret the 2-D and 3-D seismic data, determine why the previously drilled wells were failures and develop prospects that would be successful,” he said. “We also had to figure out how to effectively communicate our ideas to a panel of industry experts within a 25-minute time frame.”
Efforts – and Intangible Dynamics
Another student on the team, AAPG member Jolie Helm, said those 25 minutes were all-consuming. The judges, in fact, select the winning team based on technical quality, clarity and organizational skills.
"In preparation, we set timelines and goals for ourselves and literally lived this dataset every day for two months, and I think it showed in our presentations,” she said. “It was grueling at times when we were working 50-plus hours a week, but the outcome was extremely rewarding."
As to the award itself, she said, "It felt very surreal that we won the competition; it definitely took some time to sink in."
Adding to how impressive this all is, Lock pointed out that his Region, the Gulf Coast, is a perennially strong arena (the University of Texas won the IBA in 2011), so it’s not just enough for a team to do well – every school will do that – it has to do something special.
“In each round, though," Lock said of his students, "they pulled out everything they had and it turned out to be enough, although I doubt there was much room for the judges to choose between the top teams.”
Often that distance between teams comes down to the intangibles, even the inexplicable, like the swimmer who eats the same meal before games, like the towel on which former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian used to gnaw.
“One of the students had made a comment indicating he was somewhat superstitious – didn’t want to change anything about our approach from the success,” Locke said, referring to that first victory back in 2012, so he tried to replicate the lead-up.
“In Long Beach (2012) we spent the Saturday visiting the La Brea tar pits and museum, so this Saturday of the competition we went to the Houston Museum – what a fine museum! – and at the awards ceremony we again sat in the front row as a statement that we expected to win, just as we did in Long Beach.”
Practical Petroleum Geology
For UL Lafayette, like all the schools in the competition, participation in the IBA competition is not just about the contest or the $20,000 first prize – which will be used to upgrade facilities and programs, provide scholarships, buy computers and software (“We are not well funded compared with many other programs, and the award money definitely helps," Lock said) – but about its overall program, its day-to-day operations, its students preparedness.
“Our reputation has grown. Recruiters have become aware that we have a program strongly oriented toward practical, petroleum industry geology.”
But he wants to underscore that none of it happens without a team of students, administrators and others.
“I cannot leave out a comment about the industry mentors for IBA,” he said. “Without the time and trouble that these men and women provide, for little recognition, the IBA program would not be the success it is.”
And here he mentions, specifically, the great work and passion of AAPG members Mary Broussard and Mike Quinn of Freeport-McMoRan Oil and Gas in Lafayette, who also are adjunct faculty members at the school.
Ultimately, Lock says the IBA winners, which, along with Helm and Babineaux, consisted of Sam Ely, Nicholas Geyer and Daniel Sutton, are now ready for the next contest: careers.
“The IBA competition is a fantastic opportunity for a lot of students to gain incredible experience,” he said, “and I know that anyone who has ‘IBA team’ on his or her résumé is sending a strong message – here is a bright, hard-working team player who is ready to take a place in our industry.”
The team will you tell you it's more than that.
"I have a great sense of pride," Helm said, "in this school and the geology program."
A thought echoed by Babineaux.
“As geology students at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, we are all well aware of how strong the geology program is here,” he said, “but it is still not as well known as some of the geology programs at the larger universities.”
It’s known now.